Happy 90th Erik Nylén

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Erik Nylén in 1987, holding a ship’s vane inspired by 11th century ones, standing in front of Krampmacken, a replica of a 12th century sailing boat. “Krampmacken” means “the brine shrimp”. Photograph by Rune Edberg. Thanks Rune!

One of my archaeological heroes turned 90 last Saturday.

Professor Erik Nylén is huge in Swedish archaeology. His name is associated with any number of important fieldwork and publication projects, and also with a strongly pro-science movement during the 60s and 70s where fieldwork and labwork methods were greatly improved. One of Erik’s big ideas was wholesale photographic documentation using turrets for vertical photography.

Much of the material I worked with for my thesis was digs he presided over on Gotland in the 50s and 60s, whose documentation has effectively unlimited resolution thanks to all the photos. (As a wry corrective to technological over-optimism, it turned out that the glue Erik’s staff used at the time didn’t keep well, so all his photo mosaics had to be renovated by archivists in the 90s to keep from falling apart.) I once took a trunkful of this documentation to Stockholm from Visby, where it had gotten stuck after Erik had an argument with central archives. The archivists didn’t much like Erik’s A3 format ring binders full of mixed media, and so he didn’t much like them.

Through his forceful personality, Erik is the stuff of legends. Colleagues still tell tales of how he would show up at his underlings’ digs, wearing riding gear and roaring astonishingly colourful expletives at the top of his voice. Last time I met him, a few years back, he had a fine suntan from his daily horseback rides, which were sometimes sped up with the aid of replica Viking Period spurs. The man is larger than life.

Happy 90th, Erik!

Comments

  1. #1 Ny Björn
    October 21, 2008

    Unfortunately, from what I have understood he’ve suffered a stroke or two and his hearing isn’t what it used to be – but still, he attended the Spilling-seminar in Visby in May, so he’s still in the game.

    I do indeed second your cheers!

    /N B

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